The teeth in my bottom are false

Writers know that nothing is ordinary or boring.

Everything around you is interesting. Even things you take for granted can give you ideas for stories, plays, documentaries, school assignments and holiday projects.

Take teeth, for instance. Here’s a collection of bits and pieces about ordinary old teeth. Apply your brilliant creative brain to them, and see what you can come up with!

Claudius Galenus was a Greek physician 2,000 years ago. Nowadays, he is known simply as Galen. One of his duties was to look after gladiators, which probably kept him pretty busy.

Galen was ahead of his time. He was the first physician to use the pulse rate to check a person’s health. He also managed to find out quite a lot about the human skeleton. This would have been difficult in those days — dissection of corpses was not allowed. He did, however, make a strange mistake. He believed that adult humans have only 16 teeth. People continued to believe this for many centuries.

We now know that most people have about 24 teeth by the time they are 12. A further eight teeth may grow later. The last of these are called “wisdom teeth”. Why?

Someone was asked, “Have you got false teeth?” They answered, “The teeth in my top row are real. The teeth in my bottom are false”. What did they really mean?

It is not a good idea to ask people if they have false teeth. In ancient times, however, it would have been fairly obvious. Between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, false teeth were made of very odd materials. You might meet people who had teeth made of ivory, bone or even wood. What would this feel like?

Very rich people had teeth made from precious materials. When they wanted to eat, they took their teeth out. In the 17th and 18th century rich people could buy false teeth made from the teeth of poor people. Can you imagine selling your own teeth for pocket money? Before you answer that question, remember that there were no anæsthetics in those days.

About 150 years ago, false teeth were made of porcelain. They were individual teeth, not complete sets. Various other materials were tried. One that did not work well was celluloid. One man, while smoking at his London club, set his own teeth on fire!

Teeth in everyday sayings

What do these sayings mean?

— armed to the teeth

— by the skin of one’s teeth

— fight tooth and nail

— get one’s teeth into something

— (say something) between one’s teeth

— teething problems

— to have a sweet tooth

— to set one’s teeth on edge

— to take the bit between one’s teeth

— toothless (coward)

Silly (but creative) questions

Use them as starting points for discussion, debate, writing a story, scripting a play, whatever you like.

— Are teeth a health hazard?

— Should teeth carry a Government Health Warning?

— Should we have more (or fewer) teeth?

— Do we need a Tooth Reform Party in parliament?

— How about a licence to own and use teeth?

Sentences that lost their way

What do they really mean?

Our dog, Herbert, dug his teeth into the apples, which were white and sharp.

Euphrosnia’s teeth were decaying because she ate too many lollies, which she kept in her cupboard, and they needed to be extracted.

I’m exercising my brain with this all work. I really want to get my teeth into it.

“I’m very good at painting teeth,” announced the artist.

Maria gritted her teeth in anger when she tried to stuff all her books into her school bag, but they kept on falling out.

Showing off his gems and jewels, the handsome ruler flashed his teeth in a greedy smile. He told us that he always kept them locked in a cupboard.

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An activity for school students, adapted from Brian Barratt's BrainWords Book A